Chernobyl: a month of Russian occupation of the nuclear power plant

By evening, Russian forces had occupied all strategic locations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Part of the Russian army kept control of the area, while the others headed for the town of Vyshhorod, closer to Kyiv, about 90 km south of Chernobyl.

Ukrainian investigators were unable to establish exactly how many Russian soldiers were in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but said they were combined units of the Russian Siberian Military District – Russian National Guard troops with the support of military personnel from the Ministry of Defense.

Most of the employees of the Chernobyl plant, who had remained at their workplaces during the day, saw the Russian soldiers for the first time when they went to dinner that evening.

“They were dressed in black with white armbands,” recalls Vyacheslav Yakushev. That meant they were the special forces of the Russian national guard, he said.

According to him, in the dining room he also saw the soldiers of the Ukrainian national guard, now disarmed. After dinner, the employees returned to their place of work.

Rise of radioactive dust

The Russian invasion quickly made itself felt in the radiation level measured in the exclusion zone. On February 25, Chernobyl’s automated radiation sensor system exploded.

Serhiy Kireev, director of the Ukrainian state corporation that controls the radiation sensor system, says standard levels of radiation have increased two to eight times at some sensors. But Kireev soon stopped receiving information about radiation levels in the area remotely – all communications and internet connection were lost.

Why the increased radiation? As Kireev explains, when the Russian army entered the Chernobyl zone, their heavy vehicles – and the fact that they were driving a lot – kicked up radioactive dust.

Radiation spread is uneven in Chernobyl, so visitors and workers are expected to travel via strictly defined routes. After the 1986 accident, scattered nuclear fuel particles drifted near the plant. At the same time, the area also houses temporary storage sites for radioactive waste, which were used immediately after the accident. A Russian convoy passed through an area called “Western Trail”, one of the most polluted areas of Chernobyl.

Michael A. Bynum